Monday, August 10, 2009

Of Mints and Markers: Curiously Strong and Sharp

Some products are things we never knew we needed. Smart marketing takes advantage of the unique ways that people value everyday items.

Before they became ubiquitous, Altoids were just a novelty product, something hipsters and old men handed out to their cronies. But then something happened and they became a must-have, commonly recognized brand. In 1995, when Kraft foods acquired the product, it had been around for, well, centuries, notable both for the concentration of peppermint oil and, starting in the 1920s, the clever tin in which they were housed. Their new campaign was rather tongue-in-cheek and campy with vague sexual references. The most famous was the turn-of-the-century carnival worker featured with the caption "Nice Altoids."

This ad ran for what felt like an eternity in contemporary marketing terms, but it also gave the mints a notoriety among a certain segment of the population. Nowadays, everyone knows the Curiously Strong Peppermint, its variations (chocolate covered ginger, so far from the original, but still so good), and of course, the tin. Altoids can now be found in many flavors as well as gum and sours and claim to be the number one mint in the USA, which has prompted the corporate owners to move manufacturing from Europe to Tennessee.

Another product that suddenly appears necessary to everyone's daily life is the Sharpie. Twenty years ago, permanent markers were the kind of thing moms used to label kid's clothes before sending them off to camp or office workers kept around to make sure their lunch leftovers in the company refrigerator didn't get eaten by someone else. Black and red were standard -- green was for unusual circumstances. Graffiti artists have always loved Sharpie (In college towns, local coffee shops even began leaving Sharpies in the restrooms, encouraging poetry on the walls and using the big fat black version to "erase" anything too raucous). Nowadays, the brand name Sharpie has replaced the less colorful "permanent marker" (like calling a tissue a Kleenex, the item and the brand have unconsciously collided.) The parent company, seeing a perfect opportunity, is coloring the world. Indeed, Sharpies have become an art necessity: here in Pittsburgh, the most local venerable shoe store staged a promotional event, where local tattoo artists would grace any newly purchased pair of Ugg boots for free.

Building on this kind of unusual usage, Sharpie has smartly linked its new website, sharpieuncapped, to a whole host of online communities, DIY enthusiasts, kids, and artists who generate endless innovative ways to use sharpies. There's even a David Beckham promotion, some amazing surf boards, and a nice YouTube video showing exactly how to transfer a design to a t-shirt. And for the really ambitious, there's always the opportunity to emulate artist Tim Bernard, whose Sharpie murals translate well into car designs.

Referencing their most recent summer campaign, Sally Grimes, global vice president of marketing for Sharpie, told Marketing Daily: " We're starting now because we think Sharpie is about much more than a school supply. It's a tool for self-expression not necessarily tied to any particular season."

It's one thing for a product to work its way into people's list of necessities and it's another for companies to capitalize on that successfully. For mints and markers, you can't do better than these.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

Very colorful blog... Very attractive. I hope it's brining you a lot of success. I love your posts, very interesting and fun! Keep up the awesome work!